You have sales roles that need to be filled quickly…..like yesterday. You have a virtual stack of resumes in your inbox. As much as you may need to fill the roles quickly, you also know you need to get the right people. Sales is all about people. If you get that component right, you’re way ahead of the curve.
The problem is that it’s difficult to truly know the quality of your people until you bring them on board and see them in action. Anyone can put anything on a resume, and while you can verify some things, you can’t completely separate fact from fiction.
Similarly, there are plenty of prospects out there who are great interviewers and not so great employees. We’ve all been burned by the interview-savant who says all the right things in the lead-up and then can’t complete the most basic tasks once they’re hired.
The only thing you can due is perform exhaustive and thorough due diligence. There’s no better place to do that than in the interview. If you’re a sales leader or some other executive responsible for sales hiring, the buck likely stops with you when it comes to getting the right people in the door.
That means you need to ask detailed, penetrating questions that can draw out a candidate’s true self. Here are 20 such questions that you should incorporate into your next interview.
I think if you use some of these questions, you’ll be able to make a more confident and informed hiring decision.
1) How important is learning for a salesperson?
Hopefully, the answer to this question will be that learning is very important. Press for examples in which learning new information has helped them close a deal. And ask how they like to stay educated on their products and industry.
2) If you could only choose one, which would you prefer: making quota or having happy clients?
This is one of those questions where the “right” answer is debatable, but it will give you a good peek into their mindset. I would opt for having happy customers because I’ve found that happy customers inevitably lead to more sales.
3) Tell me about the last time you had a bad day.
It happens to all of us. Some days things just don’t go our way. The key is in how we respond. Again, this is a check into your recruit’s mindset. Do they bounce back from adversity or do they let it bring them down?
4) What keeps you motivated?
Note: the answer here shouldn’t involve money, commissions, or any form of compensation. No matter what someone says, study after study has shown that the overwhelming majority of people aren’t motivated by money. Hopefully your recruit will answer with “providing for family” or “earning recognition” in their field, or something else that isn’t financial.
5) Tell me about how your past managers or coworkers have helped you succeed.
What you’re really asking is: Are you a good team player? That may or may not be important at your organization. If it is important, you want someone who recognizes that collaboration is important and who is willing to accept input and support from coworkers and managers.
6) What are your favorite questions to ask in your first meeting with a prospect?
This will give you an idea of how your recruit builds relationships. How do they build rapport? How do they establish trust? Everyone has their own style, so there’s no right or wrong answer. However, this will give you more insight into how they operate.
7) Tell me about a past client who would give me a negative review of you.
Even the best salespeople have bad experiences with clients. What you’re looking for in the answer is how they responded to the negative experience. What could they have done differently? What did they learn?
If they describe a situation in which it was everything was the client’s fault, that could be a red flag. It may show that they can’t take accountability for their actions.
8) If I talked to three of your customers right now, what are three adjectives they would use to describe you?
This is one of those questions where there’s no right or wrong answer. If you ask this to a handful of people, you’ll probably get a wide range of answers. That’s okay.
Hopefully, one of the adjectives will be something like “helpful.” Helping is the new selling. Clients are savvy enough to make decisions without being sold to. What they really want is someone who can help them solve a problem. Look for adjectives like helpful, consultative, or problem solving.
9) What are your favorite tools to research your target market?
This question is a bit tricky because you’re assuming that they do research their market. Of course, that’s the point of the question. It really doesn’t matter which tools they use. What’s more important is that they can describe the tools they like and how they use them.
If the applicant is grasping for an answer or giving vague descriptions, that could be a sign that they don’t research their market at all, which is a big problem.
10) When’s the right time to give up pursuing a prospect?
Everyone has their own style, so this answer could vary a great deal among different applicants. However, it should give you an idea of how well-defined their process is. For example, they may say, “After the sixth phone call or email, I let the lead go cold.” Even though the average is 12 touches to close a sale, this level of detail shows they’ve thought their process through. If they give a vague or general answer, they may not have a defined process.
11) How do you prepare for a meeting with a new prospect?
Again, you’re looking for specifics here that indicate your applicant has a process. I review their LinkedIn profile and connections. I research their company’s product lines to see where we might fit into the mix. I look for mentions of them or their company on Google News. These are the kinds of specifics you want to hear.
If the answer is, “I look around online,” they don’t have a process in place.
12) How do you generate leads?
Prospecting/lead generation is one of the areas where I find salespeople are consistently deficient in their skills. The truth is that many salespeople just aren’t good at it, or they don’t put in enough time.
Like with the previous questions, here you want to see a specific process that shows that they’re committed to lead generation. Ambiguity should be a red flag.
13) What tools do you use to manage your time?
In my experience, time management is a big challenge for salespeople. The most effective salespeople know how to focus their time and energy on their most important tasks. This questions isn’t really about the tools, but is more about making sure that they have a time management system in place.
14) Explain to me how something works. Anything. You pick.
Role play makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but I think it’s one of the most effective ways to find out how skilled a salesperson is. Ask them to explain how their last product or service works. Or how fantasy football works. Or how to calculate a golf handicap. Anything, really, that they feel comfortable with.
Are they concise? Can they explain the item clearly? Are they good at offering explanation and also being personable enough to build the relationship?
15) I’m a prospect and you’re calling me out of the blue. How would you introduce yourself?
Cold calling or lukewarm calling is a big part of any sales job. Unfortunately, it terrifies many people. Ask your interviewee to role play it. If they’re uncomfortable or have never done it before, that will show immediately. If they’re frightened by the idea, you’ll have to decide whether or not training can help them overcome that fear.
16) Why should I hire you?
This is what it really comes down to. They’re a salesperson. So have them sell you on why they should hire you. The best salespeople will be able to give you three or four concise, compelling, and powerful points as to why they’re best-suited for the job.
If you seem to have trouble hiring the right candidates, your issues may go beyond simple interviewing technique. Maybe you’re recruiting from the wrong pools of candidates. Maybe your job descriptions are poor.
Let’s talk about your challenges and rework your hiring process. I’ve spent more than 30 years helping businesses of all shapes and sizes recruit and retain talented salespeople. Contact me today and let’s schedule a time to talk.
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